I have a friend who when asked by me if he would mind doing something will take a pause, RIPE with hesitation, and then draw ever so slowly from his resounding pause a throaty preamble that sounds like eeeuhhhh…culminating in a loud “SURE”. Now I am telling you in confidence that if I was to get up at 8 am tomorrow, eat a can of Popeye spinach for breaky, drop 100 push ups and spend the first dedicated hour of my day prepping strategy for passive aggressive communication of my UTTER DISDAIN for being asked to do a random task, or even participate in something I dare say, FUN, using the least actual syllables possible, I could not beat his gut punching delivery.
Somehow he manages to say:
How very fucking annoying of you there is nothing I would less rather do than your bloody suggestion you egregious ass please accept my utter distaste and disdain at having to waste several units of my breath in answering your brazen audacious stupidity.
In one word.
By the time my friend, good friend I dare say gets to the end of a sure, huffed with a shoulder drop and an implied eye roll stretching from Canada to Jupiter –I’ll let you in on wee secret –the last thing I want in an infinity of possibilities, is the exact thing that a mere few seconds prior I was directly asking for from him. I can think of, oh say 799,999,999 billion other people I would rather take a favour from, than HIM. In shocking news. I’d rather do without. The favour. Oxygen. Chocolate. Even wine, my lovelies, even a sharp and full bodied Goddess of a red rendered by miracle from a glass of still water by my bro Jesus himself.
Do you want me to tone down the hyperbole? Could I? Would I?
Now, if every time he (my friend) was asked to do something, a multiple choice selection of answers appeared from a. gently fuck off to d. fuck you with extra caramel sauce on top, he might think twice about pressing the answer button but that is not how it happens. He uses “sure” accompanied by profoundly off-putting subtext and non-verbal communication with reckless disregard for how it lands, like a dagger, okay I’ll stop already.
But seriously I don’t want to feel that I am putting someone out. I am a big fan of collaboration, working together to make everyone happy. There is a time and a place when we need to ask for things that are not going to be a lot of fun for the other person, and we know it, but we are in a pinch, and so we do it with humour and grace and gratitude and a promise to reciprocate and with acknowledgement that it’s a bigger ask. And we expect a grumble on those ones.
But with an everyday ask, a suggestion, an invitation, a would you like to have fun doing this very fun thing with me because I am obviously so very fun, a hesitant sure can leave the other person feeling like you are put out, would rather do something else, and have feelings and thoughts and opinions that you aren’t willing to share, which does not foster the honest and open exchange of ideas and suggestions and asks. I may not want to do it but I don’t wanna tell you why not can be about all kinds of things; it can be about feeling in control, or needing to feel like you’re doing someone a favour, or simply feeling the need to please and accommodate. But most healthy humans don’t want to be accommodated (unless it’s one of those times that they do –see above). Their everyday sharing of asks and tasks wants to be equal, shared, same page. They don’t want to be pleased or appeased. I don’t want someone to go along with my idea anymore than I want them to go along with me.
Now not all ‘sures’ are equal.
The word “sure” does not have to be a weapon, concealed or carried.
It doesn’t have to drive otherwise friendly friends to homicidal ideation (JK you know I JEST).
But really it can mean so many things.
Trust the English language to give us a word that means certainty but is used to convey everything on the spectrum of less than.
It can actually mean a sincere “yes” as in yes, why not?. It can convey surprise and agreement all in one happy four letter word. I hadn’t thought of it, but sure, let me hereby convey my enthusiasm for your request.
It can convey straight up willingness. Of course I can do that for you. I don’t mind at all. Sure!
Or in the same vein it can convey genuine indecision. Sure let’s do it your way it’s easier than deciding.
Or something sweeter. I really want to want to ‘cause I love everything about dating you or spending time with you and I love to see you smile but my brain hasn’t fully processed yet and if I give it 5 mins I may really want to get on board.
Or reluctant indecision. I don’t know what I want but I feel pressured to decide.
It can convey reluctant acceptance. Since you asked. If you really want. Fine have it your way.
And last but not least and maybe not even last, lol, it can convey angry and sarcastic refusal. Sure! Followed by one of those low in the throat three beat laughs that sound like Santa has spent too much time reviewing his naughty list, Huh, huh, huh. As in as if, not a chance in hell, screw you buddy for your rude and inappropriate suggestion.
So what is the deal with the word sure? How do we deal with the word sure.
Such versatility, surely you’re not suggesting we shouldn’t use it in our daily life and relationships Erin? Baha.
My answer is Sure, you can use sure. Sparingly and wisely.
The answer to sure is the answer to laying the foundations of relationship communication.
We don’t really run into problems when sure is used to convey surprised delight, unless say it’s a marriage proposal, in which case why not or I hadn’t thought of it but okay is a bit underwhelming and non-committal. We want our partner to have considered the possibility, assuming we’re not drunk and in Vegas. But sure! I’d love to have lunch is a fairly effective communication.
We don’t even run into problems with purposeful sarcasm, because everyone knows what we mean. I am not suggesting that throwing around SURE FINE WHATEVER’S is the answer to conflict resolution, but no one is left guessing that you are angry. Even if you are saving up the why’s and wherefores’.
The problem sures are the concealed weapons; they happen when your voice or body language convey a grey area between enthusiasm and dissatisfaction. When your partner or loved ones are confused about your state of mind.
It’s OKAY to be unsure. Some things about ourselves we know with conviction. Some we are in a life long process of figuring out, including how much chocolate it’s reasonable to consume before bed or whether eating at the same restaurant again makes us a boring and complacent human.
But don’t say it passive aggressively. If this is a habit of yours, saying “sure” to express inconvenience or leave your asker guessing as to your feelings and thoughts, you may need some help feeling safe to speak your truth. If you really want to eat Italian I can rally but I was kind of craving a burger.
Or I wish I could do that favour for you and I don’t want to disappoint you but I really need to get my stuff done today.
From here all kinds of magical negotiations and permutations and combinations of agreeable outcomes can happen, because you are both sharing what you feel and want.
Similarly, if you are saying ‘sure’ to convey that in fact you are not sure, it’s okay to follow it up with I would love to I just need a few minutes to consider whether I could make that work.
Or, I hadn’t really thought about it. That could be great, let’s go through the options.
Sometimes we don’t give a crap what’s for dinner, or we want to see our partner delighted because that feels good, and so it’s a yes, because what we want most is to join in their conviction and celebrate that.
THE POINT HERE is that in our relationships we want an open exchange of information and ideas and wants and needs. That is not always easy to do, for different reasons. But we want to encourage one another to share, and to build up a safety in and by sharing.
There can be a lot of pressure put on agreeing and disagreeing. Relationships often combine divergent personalities, peacekeeper with the interrogator, the manager with the free spirit.
If I can encourage us all to get really good at one thing at the beginning of a relationship, to build one muscle that will support so many others, it’s taking the pressure off of having different moods and likes, debunking the idea that it means something ominous and terrible, and celebrating those differences; collaborate as a solution rather than bending and sweeping your feelings, opinions and likes under a rug.
Let me tell you about the woman with the owls. I met a woman once whose house was full of owls. Not real ones, no, that would be a better story for sure, rather owl knickknacks, paintings, curios. Later that weekend we were at an art store away from the reunion of family and friends that brought us together when I spotted a beautiful ceramic owl for sale. I pointed it out to her, and faster than you can say “hoo” she had pulled me aside to declare in a hushed whisper that in fact she did not like owls. Turns out her mother had bought her an owl something or other, her sister had seen it displayed and next occasion followed suit, and a year became ten years of gifted owls, in all manner of presentation (you can get anything with an owl on it) all peeking and ogling her with their round eyes, making her feel like a stranger in her own home. I don’t know enough about this woman to say that the owls were a metaphor for not having a voice, or needing to please at her own expense. Sometimes an owl is just an owl. Okay who are we kidding an owl is never just an owl. But in relationship, an owl can become an elephant. And there is only so much room on the walls when it comes to elephants. An innocent owl can lead to a relationship that doesn’t make room for you. It can leave your partner protecting something you didn’t care about in the first place and ignorant of what matters. Italian food over burgers can lead to lifestyles, can lead to career choices, can lead to family dynamics and then who are you really having a relationship with and who is doing the relating? All because you were trying to be nice. Then when you have conflict you’re going to have to peel those layers back because no one knows what they are truly fighting about.
Better to practice with me today.
“I don’t like owls!”
Ready, say it again.
“I don’t like owls.”
Would you like this owl trinket? A stamp of an owl? Would you like to see the owl exhibit at the Calgary ZOO?’
“Sure”. Wrong Bzzzt. Remember?
“I don’t like owls.”
Don’t worry, no owls’ feelings were harmed during the making of this musing.
I actually like owls, because my mom loves them and I love my mom.
But please don’t start sending them to me.
I do like diamonds and red wine.
If you’re asking.
I could sure use some of them right now.
P.S. If you have a friend or loved one who is struggling sometimes a few sessions of support can make all the difference. Reach out and we’ll find the solution that is right for them.
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